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Happy holidays: welcome to Cape Town’s coolest hood

Happy holidays: welcome to Cape Town’s coolest hood

2 December 2020

“If cities were romances, Cape Town would be the love-at-first-sight,” according to Condé Nast Traveller. South Africa’s alluring Mother City has dusted off 2020 and its downtown is more than ready to welcome visitors from near and far this festive season.

The award-winning city is often associated with beaches and wine estates, but it is its city centre – as vibrant, culturally rich, gastronomically exciting and downright cool as any in the world – that woos visitors with its depth and charm.

“While the broader Cape Town region boasts beautiful beaches, the winelands and excursions through the Deep South to Cape Point,  the hustle and bustle of the Central City is a must-visit, even as a tourist in your own town,” says Tasso Evangelinos, CEO of the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID), whose mandate it is to keep the CBD safe, clean, caring and open for business.

Cape Town’s traditional Central Business District has a lot going for it, Evangelinos says. “It is a unique area, from its culturally-rich green lung in the form of the Company’s Garden to the 44 hotels and myriad shops, bars, clubs, restaurants and hotels.”

In fact, the CCID’s State of Cape Town Central City Report 2019 reveals there are over 1 200 retail and entertainment entities in the CBD. “Of these, 151 are restaurants – with many being award-winning destination eateries – and 73 are coffee shops,” Evangelinos confirms. “Visitors are definitely spoilt for choice and we would like to invite them to come back to town to experience what we have to offer.”

Here’s how to get the most out of Cape Town’s city centre these holidays.

Hop on the Red Bus

If you’re new to the CBD, why not take in the sights aboard a double-decker Red Bus. These hop-on, hop-off excursions allow travellers to get closer to iconic monuments and famous landmarks. Locals get a special rate of R179 (usually R245), R120 for pensioners and R90 for a child. 

Take it slow, travel by foot


The Arch for Arch monument at the start of Government Ave

Another popular way to enjoy the CBD’s many treasures is on foot. The streets are as easy to navigate as they are charming, and it is impossible to get lost with majestic Table Mountain visible at every turn.

Start at the Heerengracht Fountain in Adderley Street and meander up Cape Town's main street. You'll pass the kaleidoscope of flowers at the stalls of the famous Adderley Street Flower Market and eventually land up at the Arch for Arch, a beautiful wooden structure created and installed to celebrate the life and work of one of South Africa’s greatest heroes, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Then, stroll up Government Avenue in the Company’s Garden, stopping for refreshments at The Heritage Shop café.

Take a stroll down memory lane

While you're in Government Avenue, be sure to take in the imposing red-and-white building of the Houses of Parliament. There are three sections, completed in different periods, the original in the 1800s. As you leave Government Ave, swing right to visit Church Square, on the corner of Parliament and Spin streets. Today In the middle of the Square is a statue of Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr. The cobbled square offers a quiet space away from the otherwise busy streets. It is also a former slave market site. Connected to the Slave Lodge, it is an important part of the Cape’s history.

If you’d prefer to have a guide, join a walking tour. These free 90-minute excursions leave at 11h00 daily from Greenmarket Square - home to the popular craft market where you can buy traditional African souvenirs, curios and crafts – and take a historic amble around the Central City. If a self-guided walking tour is more your scene, why not explore the city’s original shoreline from the Castle of Good Hope, through the Cape Town CBD, to the V&A Waterfront. The 4,5 km tour retraces the original shoreline, from the first making of the land to the present day bustling commercial city.

What’s on the menu?

For foodies, there are walking culinary tours that explore the Central City’s epicurean delights. Eat like a local, sampling Cape Malay curries and traditional African foods while taking in historic sights. For those with a sweet tooth there is even a stop at an artisanal chocolatier, Honest Chocolate.

Walking tours aside, there is no shortage of eateries that cater to every culinary taste. For authentic Indian, Chinese, Malay and Turkish street food, head for the Eastern Food Bazaar on Longmarket Street. A popular canteen-like eatery, it’s a stone’s throw from the Grand Parade and is loved by locals. If fine dining is your flavour visit FYN on Speakers Corner. With visionaries Peter Tempelhoff, Ashley Moss and Jennifer Hugé behind the award-winning restaurant, its selection of menus and use of unusual ingredients will pleasure your palate. For something a little more every day, there’s Burger & Lobster, the ever-popular Clarke’s, or La Parada – all on Bree Street – for casual dining with views of the bustling streets.

And for a little bit of culture


Crafters on Greenmarket Square

Bookworms and art lovers are also well looked after in the CBD with stores such as The Book Lounge - a gem that boasts two floors of novels and nonfiction - and iconic Clarke’s (no relation to the café). If you have kids, pop into The Book Lounge on Saturday morning at 11h00 for story time or see if a book launch evening is planned during your stay.

Visitors will be spoilt for choice with the world-class galleries dotted around the Central City. Meander through the streets to enjoy public art including Ralph Borlands’ ghost shark sculptures on Jetty Square and pop into spaces such as Michael Chandler’s Voorkamer Gallery or StateoftheART. Or visit the popular Iziko Museums, which is an amalgamation of 14 national museums located in and around the CBD. Among them is the Iziko Planetarium while the South African Jewish Museum is Africa’s first Holocaust Centre. It mixes interpretive panels and archival photos with recreated environments and multimedia display.

If you happen to be in town on 3 December, then join in on the First Thursdays event. This popular initiative allows visitors to explore the Central City on foot, with galleries, museums and other retail venues staying open till late, often serving a glass of wine on entrance. Be sure to observe Covid-19 safety protocols and act responsibly by masking up.

Where to stay for the night

Out of town visitors have so many accommodation options. And in fact, even if you live in Cape Town, spoil yourself with a night’s stay in one of the CBD’s world-class hotels for a well-deserved staycation. Choose from establishments in the Tsogo Sun stable, including the signature Southern Sun The Cullinan, and check out the special deals on at the moment. Or opt for one of downtown Cape Town’s new boutique hotels – Gorgeous George in St Georges Mall, a celebration of local design and innovation located in two tastefully renovated heritage buildings, or Labotessa on Church Square, with its classic European style and luxury. If you’re in the mood for something a bit more casual, try 91 Loop Hostel, the CBD’s first boutique backpackers’ lodge, or Urban Hive, which is housed inside one of the City’s historic Victorian buildings.

“The list of things to do really is endless,” says Evangelinos. “The CBD is a gem, a jewel in Cape Town’s crown. Rivalling any international City, visitors can get lost for days exploring the City streets, popping in for a good cup of coffee, relaxing in a beautiful hotel, or visiting one of the many arts and entertainment offerings. We encourage international visitors, South Africans, and Capetonians, to come to town to experience her many delights and world-class destinations this holiday, while of course observing Covid-19 regulations.”

For more great ideas on where to go visit the CCID’s website: www.capetownccid.org.

IMAGES: Carmen Lorraine

Tags: Cape Town’s visitor’s guide CCID Tasso Evangelinos